First published with The Courier –

The door is always open at number eight Primrose Street.

A constant flow of visitors pass through the lounge room in time for the 12pm drop-in lunch on Saturday.

Each is warmly welcomed with a bright hello from Wendouree West Exodus Community coordinator Elly Green.

“We had 50 people in last Saturday, adults and children,” she says.

The kitchen is full, waiting for lunch to be served. Hungry visitors spread to the next room and old garage out the back to find a seat.

They’re here to share fresh hot food and conversation.

HOT LUNCH: Community members gather in the kitchen to share hot food and conversation. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

I sit beside Elly on an armchair in the front lounge room, on a bright multi-coloured knitted seat cover.

A patchwork quilt of children’s paintings hangs on the lounge room wall.

Nearby a quote is written across a canvas – “the good we do today becomes the happiness of tomorrow”.

Elly has volunteered with the Wendouree West Exodus Community since it was first established in 2004.

She has lived in Wendouree West for more than 50 years and has seen firsthand the need for community support.

There are many lonely and marginalised in our community.

“That’s why we have Saturday drop in. We make soup and have a hot lunch. For a lot of them it might be the only decent meal they get all week.”

Elly walks me through the house to a makeshift classroom at the back of the garage.

The volunteer run not-for-profit organisation also runs an after school learning program, one of many services on offer in response to community needs.

A group of Year 11 and 12 students from Ballarat Grammar and St Patrick’s College tutor about 20 children who attend the session each Thursday afternoon.

“We have a lot of children here whose parents can’t read or write,” Elly explains.

“They come here because their mum and dad can’t help. Some Sudanese children come too because their parents may still be learning English themselves.”

LEARNING SPACE: The Wendouree West Exodus Community recently renovated the classroom space based at the back of the old garage. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

The remains of white chalk marks cover the blackboard which spreads across the back wall.

The small room has been recently renovated with a fresh coat of crisp white paint.

“We have had comments from the schools saying how far these kids have come on since we started doing this learning program,” Elly says.

The after school learning program and Saturday drop-in lunch are only two of a range of services offered by the Wendouree West Exodus Community.

The volunteer leadership team run camps for children, families and men and women each year.

“A lot of kids in this community never get to go away on holiday. They don’t go to school camps because their parents can’t afford it,” Elly says, as we walk back inside the house to the kitchen.

SOUP’S UP: Volunteers serve hot soup to hungry visitors on Saturday. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

Every chair is full as volunteers serve steaming soup and bread from the corner stove.

The small kitchen is crowded.

Elly is says she is hoping to create a more comfortable space to run the Saturday lunch, where all visitors can sit and enjoy their meal together in the one room, rather than spreading out to find a seat.

All that is holding her back is funding.

“St Patrick’s College held a big fundraiser and gave us money to build a shed,” she says.

“We have got the shed up but now we are stuck. We still have the electricity to connect, to install the supplied kitchen and we’re hoping to put a disabled toilet and shower at the back.

“It has been going on now for over 12 months and we’re getting a bit impatient.”

The Wendouree West Exodus Community is auspiced by Our Lady Help of Christians Catholic Church, and supported by a number of organisations including the Redemptorists, Sisters of Mercy, and St Vincent de Paul Society.

But the leadership team is hoping to secure more sustainable funding to continue to meet community needs.

 VISION FOR FUTURE: Wendouree West Exodus Community coordinator Elly Green has a vision this shed will be set up for Saturday lunch with disability access toilets and shower to make the visit easier for their many disabled guests. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

Elly says the demand for services in Wendouree West is increasing.

“Every week we have new people coming in,” she says.

I am just so passionate about this place. I believe we are doing a great thing.

Sitting back on the old armchair in the lounge room, Elly remembers heart warming stories from the past.

She tells me of a rough young boy who ran a prayer meeting at the Exodus house with Father Frank Smith after the death of his grandmother.

“He got all his cousins in here… They held hands and they talked about everything they wanted to talk about. There was tears and there was laughter. That was one of the most memorable things I have ever heard.

“One young woman who was in a wheelchair had multiple sclerosis. She used to come every Saturday in her scooter. When she was dying she didn’t want prayers, she had Father Frank to hold her hand.

The Primrose Street house has also hosted wedding receptions, funeral wakes and baptisms throughout its 14 years as a community meeting place.

Elly looks over my shoulder to say a cheery hello to a couple who had recently moved to Maryborough. They return to Wendouree West each Saturday for the company and warm welcome.

“One night at 9pm we had six young boys come in. They had no where to stay the night. We had them everywhere, in the spare room, on the floor here and they stayed the night,” she continues.

“We have just done so much for the people who don’t know where else to go.”

I leave Elly as she returns to the kitchen to help serve lunch to visitors eager to taste today’s soup.

Behind me, the door remains open.